Thursday, March 20, 2014
Anonymous speech on rating sites might not be protected by "The Opinion Rule" in defamation suits
There has been more discussion recently of a decision by a Virginia appeals court to require Yelp to turn over the identities of persons who wrote negative reviews of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning.
Generally, the court said, anonymous criticism of a business would be protected by the first amendment. But a business would have the right to determine whether the author of the comment had actually been a specific customer of the specific business. If the writer had not purchased or attempted to purchase products or services from the business, there could be no first amendment protection, because the “opinion rule” could no longer apply since the person had not been a customer.
But the identities of the speakers should not be used for any purpose other than determining whether they were customers.
Still, other media organizations have strongly criticized the court’s opinion. There is some more discussion of the case on “allgov.com” on Jan. 15, 2014 here.
The NBC Today show March 20 commented that a few new review sites were considering requiring customers to identify themselves or at least prove that they had used the businesses, but NBC gave no real details that I could find online yet.